Poinsettias, azaleas and Christmas cacti are traditional holiday plants, but African violets are a delightful addition to this list. They flower throughout the year, they do not outgrow their pots and they thrive in the same temperatures we do.
African violets vary in flower and leaf color. There are solid colors of snowy white, all shades of pinks and reds, and many variations of blues and purples. Some varieties have more than one color, with delicate edgings of red, blue, white or green. Some surprise with multi-colored centers. The flowers can have single, semi-double or fully double petal arrangements. They may be frilled. The leaves may be plain, ruffled or thick and hairy. They may even have a quilted appearance. Leaves may be variegated with white, yellow or light green in addition to the more standard solid green. Shapes and structure vary from the traditional flat spreading look to a trailing type. There are standards, semi-miniatures and miniatures.
The cultural needs of African natives are relatively simple. Light is a primary ingredient for bloom production. A plant will produce leaves when it is growing in a north window, but will produce flowers when its home is a sunny east or a west window with bright filtered light. They require light all year, but never intense full sun. Turning the plants a quarter of a turn each week will give them a balanced appearance.
Daytime temperatures of 72 to 75 degrees and nighttime temperatures 60 to 65 degrees work best. Keep the leaves from touching cold windows. African violets thrive with 40 percent to 60 percent humidity. To provide this level of humidity, mist the plants or set them on a water-filled tray of gravel.
Use room temperature water to avoid the shock of cold water to the roots. Bottom watering, if the pot allows the soil to soak up water, is often recommended to avoid crown rot. Top watering is possible if you only moisten the soil rather than drench it. With bottom watering, periodic leaching with warm water applied from the top is needed to flush out accumulated salts. There are pots designed specifically for African violets that keep the moisture at the correct level.
Fertilizing with an African violet fertilizer once per month in spring, summer and fall provides the plants with exactly what they need to be beautiful bloomers.
n JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension Educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.